A rambling effort to squeeze big themes inside a partners-in-crime frame.


An aging storekeeper and her adopted prodigal son team up to sell cocaine out of an inner-city delicatessen.

Luther Hightree and Gussie Steinberg are the central characters in this often-meandering story of loyalty and love transcending race and time. Luther is only 6 when Gussie and her husband, Sol, take him into their home after his birth mother, a substance-abusing prostitute, freezes to death in an alley. The Steinbergs’ acceptance of the boy is striking in no small part because Luther is black and they are white Jews, whose grocery operates in a poor, black neighborhood. The Steinbergs raise Luther under the resentful eye of their biological son, Maxwell, who soon strikes out for Harvard, while Luther simply leaves home with no announcement. Fox takes his time setting up the plot, devoting almost half the book to back stories, some of them tangential. The action picks up only when Luther returns after the death of Sol and proposes that he and Gussie use the family store as a drug trafficking front. Things change overnight. The name of the business and the selection of goods moves upmarket, along with the clientele, as Luther’s white buyers from a previous life turn up in droves. The authorities take notice of the “strange partnership” that has materialized so abruptly, and the consequences are inevitable. While the novel strives to create empathy for its characters through their shared suffering, many will be put off by its glib portrayal of “ghetto” life and the heavy-handed usage of racial epithets. Passages are also marred by three-dollar words—“condign,” “poltroon,” “revenant,” “rictus,” “simulacrum” and so on—in a story that would be better served by plainer language.

A rambling effort to squeeze big themes inside a partners-in-crime frame.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477641415

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2012

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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